On growth: science, wildness, and community!

What causes one plant to thrive in a particular location and another to wither up and die? First, there’s the obvious answer of growing conditions: the right nutrients in the soil, neither too much nor too little water/sun, the proper temperatures for that particular variety of species needs, adequate space to grow to the size of the plant, and the countless other scientific/measurable factors. Second, there’s the more mysterious, ambiguous, seemingly random conditions. Natural factors such as an animal depositing the seed in a particular location. Maybe it was a bird dropping a seed by way of its feces. Or did it just happen to blow into the right spot by way of the wind? Or, perhaps, the first year of a perennial plant’s growth happens to be a particularly wet year which gives it just what is needed for establishing robust roots. This second answer is part-mystery, the wild essence of nature, or some might credit it to divine intervention. We’ll call it the “faith factor.”

Recently, we were asked to speak to a group of new farmers in training. We focused the subject of our lecture to our farm’s rate of growth. We hoped this would illustrate for inexperienced farmers that you don’t need to start with lots of cash or even a wealth of knowledge (for example: you don’t have to be raised in a farm family) to start a successful small farm. Our farm began with virtually no start-up capital. In fact, reflecting back on my first year farming, six seasons ago, in 2011, I remember spending less than $100 of my own money on seeds, bulbs, and tools. However, one of the most interesting factors in Delight Flower Farm’s growth has been our dependence on community support. From the beginning our farm has operated primarily on the CSA model. In that first year I had eight shareholders investing in the farm (at which time I thought of it more as a “garden project” than a “farm”). It was just enough money to help with initial expenses (rented rototiller, compost, mulch, some jars, a few shovels, a hand-build-bike-trailer, etc.)

Beyond the financial support these CSA members provided, they communicated confidence and trust in me to try the project. This “faith factor” motivated me to work hard throughout the season to deliver on their expectations. Speaking in terms of a young entrepreneur, motivation to succeed and work hard is essential for making a business work.  Each successive year included more community members’ support. Our farm has had people backing us from the beginning. What’s so splendid about the CSA model is these community stakeholders share both the risk and the abundance of the season.

Our growth rate has drastically increased in the last two years as we take on greater risks (we’re planning a high tunnel construction project Spring 2017, which will enable us to extend our growing season) and we continue to expand the amount of land we grow on. Also, our community support has exponentially increased- this year we delivered arrangements to local restaurants, and businesses, in addition to our weekly CSA pick-up, (which had 30 shareholders this year!) We sold at a few farmers markets, pop-up shops, and made countless (although we do count them!) custom orders. We also made the leap from farmer to florist when we provided floral services for four local weddings. We recently started selling wholesale to Common Ground Food Co-op so community members can regularly pick up flowers conveniently at a local store for a last minute dinner party or a get-well flower arrangement for a friend during our growing season. We have created several value-added products (industry lingo) to sell at winter markets (look for our packaged teas, wreaths, herbal medicine, dried flower arrangements, etc. at the First Friday Imbibe Urbana Holiday Market, Dec 2nd as well as some other indoor winter markets).

In fact,  a “brief” summary of our growth this last year is impossible because it’s been anything but small. We have grown in HUGE ways, which is a credit to both the measurable conditions and the seemingly random factors. Yet, the core of our farm and business success is still people in our community having faith in us. When our community invests in our growth, and believes in our ability to navigate the challenges of farming we are inspired, motivated, and indeed, we flourish! We are a people-powered farm and this “factor” is why we thrive. On that note, we’re not ashamed to plug this: it’s time to sign up for the 2017 CSA! Enroll now- when we can put your finances to use with planning and purchasing for the 2017 season and while the rate is at its’ lowest cost to you.

Thanks for your continued support. -Maggie

Things are hoppin’ on the farm!

Flush, abundant, bloomin’, full-speed-ahead, busy -are all descriptors for this time of year on a Midwestern flower farm. We’ve been buzzing with lots of activity on Delight Flower Farm as you might have noticed on our various social media feeds. Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to.

Our first annual Hops Plant Sale for Father’s Day weekend was mid-June at Sipyard in downtown Urbana with music by the lovely Matt and Claire of Meadowhawk. It was a grand success. We met a bunch of friendly local brewers, herbalists, and gardeners and sold some plants too.

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Sunflower (Zinnia, Honeywort, Sage, Nasturtium, Daisy, Gooseneck, etc!) harvest has begun!!!

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Business deliveries:: This year we’ve added several new businesses to our regular delivery route. Thanks for your support, Watson’s Shack and Rail, Country Financial, Living Yoga Center, Green Yoga Spa, and Reisman Law Office. We’re glad to brighten up your work spaces with fresh flowers.

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CSA on-farm pick up. This year, we’ve changed the shareholders’ pick up format from years’ past. This new location and structure -just a short 2 hour pick up window on the farm-puts the big “C” back into our flower CSA. Being able to greet shareholders in person each week  and have shareholders meet each other really does feel like it cultivates community (& the fuzzy baby goats sweeten the deal!)

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Thanks for keepin’ up with our growth (pun intended)!

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Thriving Together

Symbiosis :: the interaction that happens when two or more different organisms live in close proximity to one another and the relationship is mutually beneficial.

In the natural world symbiosis happens all the time. For example, the fungus (peaking out in the photo above) needs the old wood for food. The mushroom rots the wood and makes nutrients for the soil that in turn feeds plants. Plants feed the animals (humans included). Then, the animals will die, eventually feeding the soil and the cycle continues. Symbiosis happens intricately throughout nature on both large and very small scales. Shared support is how the universe thrives.

Our little flower farm is in it’s fifth year and growing stronger than ever before. In a sense, we are experiencing a resurgence of our own kind of symbiosis. I’ve gone from being a single farmer, doing my own thing, to co-farming with a couple of very reliable, funny, and hard-working friends.

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This year we had our first ever volunteer work party to start the season. With good snacks and friends laboring together the chores of fence building, compost making, and weeding seemed much easier. I’m pretty sure this will become an annual tradition!

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See all these sunflower babies?!

Thanks to our friend (and shareholder), Erin, who works at Columbia Street Roastery we have received a bunch of donated burlap coffee sacks which work well to keep the weeds down on our garden paths in between the flower beds. Last week, I ran into another local-food-agriculture-community-enthusiast, Dustin Kelly, of Autumn-Berry Inspired. He was getting rid of a sturdy table and bench by the curb, which he immediately delivered to our farm. We know these will come in handy on harvest days and, hopefully, for a quiet sit amongst the flowers on cool summer evenings.

It’s these relationships (big and small) that make our CSA truly community supported!

Truly Community Supported!

IMG_4682CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a model used by farmers to enable their farms to thrive even in years of drought or too much rain (or sun, bugs, etc). CSA farms are financially backed by local members of a community who want to invest in the farm. Which means the farm is able to sustain itself financially even in bad weather conditions. When weather is good and circumstances go well, the community backers get an abundant share of the harvest. In not so ideal farming conditions community supporters still get a share of the harvest, although, it might be smaller. The farm is able to continue on into the next year in either scenario. It’s a way of sharing risk as well as harvest!

We are very pleased that this year two local community/cooperative organizations have decide to support our farm by purchasing shares of the Delight CSA flower farm! Common Ground Food Co-op and Urbana Community Acupuncture.

cgfcsmCommon Ground Food Co-op is located in Urbana, IL and is based on the consumer owned co-op model. It’s responsive to member/owner input. Common Ground is quite a power house in our little Urbana and is soon to expand to a Champaign location too. They need more members (your support!) to make this 2nd store happen, so there’s another opportunity to grow together! Some of my favorites at the co-op are their house chai, and local produce (You can’t beat the sweetness of Blue Moon carrots!) Common Ground is supporting us for the second year in a row. Our flowers will be blooming on the cafe tables all summer long!

tumblr_mfcd3xGPs61r45ubqo1_r2_500 Urbana Acupuncture is a business with a like-minded business philosophy. Here, acupuncture is offered in a group setting and at a sliding scale rate. This model encourages people to heal together, receive treatments often, and keep costs affordable. When people spread the word and bring friends for treatments everyone benefits. The business thrives, people heal, and the prices for customers stay affordable! I especially love the ambient sounds and comfy chairs available at Urbana Acupuncture- excellent for relaxin’! This year our flowers will be there to greet you as you come for healing!

We membership page. Thanks for your support, Urbana community!

-Maggie